Tag Archives: Life Journey

Fixing Our Eyes on Life

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

This life journey definitely moves through different seasons and stages. As a parent I am watching our girls move through the turn into adulthood with the establishing of lives and careers. It’s a time filled with a heady mixture of adventure, excitement, doubt, faith, and hope. It carries with it a subtle sense of immortality. I think back to what my life looked like at their ages (and shake my head in disbelief).

As a child I am watching my parents trekking into life’s final stretch with all of the unknowns regarding how events will ultimately play out at the finish line. I’m watching the mixture of feelings, experiences, and emotions that they walk through, and I’m trying to be open to what I can learn from their examples.

Wendy and I are currently feeling the back stretch of life. Literally, I now need to stretch my back every day as my body begins its natural aging progression.

One of the most fascinating observations for me  of late is to watch how we and others handle the process of aging and the troubles associated with our natural, physical decline. Every person has their own journey, their own struggles, and their own path to walk. I’m trying hard not to be judgmental, yet I am noticing stark differences in the way individuals traverse the process of physical decay. I’m observing that it is a cocktail mixed with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ingredients.

In this morning’s chapter Paul addresses his own experience with life’s natural struggle of progressive decline. Having been pondering these things, it leapt off the page at me.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

In Paul’s experience the physical and the spiritual coexist but are independent of one another. The physical continually declines while, in Christ, the spiritual continually grows. The former is in decay while the latter is budding into eternal Life. The key comes with where we choose to focus. Paul “fixes his eyes” on the spiritual with its perpetual growth and life, not on the physical and its perpetual decay.

This fits with what I have observed of late. Our thoughts and emotions  gravitate to wherever the eyes of our heart are “fixed.” If we are fixated on the grief and pains of physical decay then our thoughts and emotions are given to the pessimism and fatalism of impending death. If we, rather, reach further up and further in to fix our eyes on Life and Spirit, then our thoughts and emotions deal with our physical decline in a different manner.

Wendy and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal a year or two ago about a group of friends in their 80’s. Together the group decided that when they joined together in conversation they each could say one thing about their present physical situation. After that, the conversation had to go elsewhere. It was their way of “fixing their eyes” on living and not on dying. What a great example.

This morning Wendy and I are preparing for a long holiday weekend at the lake with friends, fixing our eyes on life. We are planning to spend next week at the lake, and I’m going to be taking a week off of blogging to rest and live a little (right after I stretch my back).

Embracing That Which You Cannot Fight

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be possessed.”
Joshua 13:1 (NRSV)

It’s perhaps funny that references to old age are leaping off the page at me here as I approach my 50th birthday at the end of April. I’m not feeling old and I’m trying not to obsess too much about it. I am, however, thinking a lot about how I want to approach the final acts (Shakespeare always had five of them!) of this story.

In a bit of synchronicity, the Wall Street Journal published this quote from a script by the Roman philosopher Cicero:

Cato: I think, my young friends, that you are admiring me for something that isn’t so difficult. Those who lack within themselves the means for a blessed and happy life will find any age painful. But for those who seek good things within themselves, nothing imposed on them by nature will seem troublesome. Growing older is a prime example of this. Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it. People can be foolish and inconsistent.

They say that old age crept up on them much faster than they expected. But, first of all, who is to blame for such poor judgment? Does old age steal upon youth any faster than youth does on childhood? Would growing older really be less of a burden to them if they were approaching eight hundred rather than eighty? If old people are foolish, nothing can console them for time slipping away, no matter how long they live.

So if you compliment me on being wise—and I wish I were worthy of that estimate and my name—in this way alone do I deserve it: I follow nature as the best guide and obey her like a god. Since she has carefully planned the other parts of the drama of life, it’s unlikely that she would be a bad playwright and neglect the final act. And this last act must take place, as surely as the fruits of trees and the earth must someday wither and fall. But a wise person knows this and accepts it with grace. Fighting against nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.

When our girls were babies I told myself that I was going to fully appreciate every stage of their growing up for what it was, both the positives and the negatives. I can’t change it, but I can choose to embrace it and find the joy in each stage. I was glad that I did that. While certain stages were more enjoyable for than others, I can honestly say that I’ve really enjoyed the entire journey of watching them grow up.

Now, I’m saying the same thing about growing older. I can’t change the way God has designed things. I might as well embrace that which I cannot fight, just as Cicero stated. It brings to mind the Cubs’ (they’re 3-0!) wise skipper, Joe Maddon, who has been telling his young ball club to “embrace the target.” No use fighting it. I might as well embrace it and find joy amidst each stage. Wendy says she’s going to hold me to that (she knows my penchant for falling back into pessimism). And, I’m sure she will. I’m hoping she doesn’t have to. I don’t want the home stretch of life’s journey to bring out the worst in me. I want it to be the fulfillment of the best in me.

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featured image: kasrak via Flicker

Today…Choose

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.
Deuteronomy 26:17 (NRSV)

It was a cold February night in 1981, but I still remember it vividly. I had been born and raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to Sunday School and each summer I went to Vacation Bible School. Just a year or so before I had gone through confirmation class and was confirmed as a member of the church at the age of 13.

But, all of that had largely been going through the religious motions. It had been doing what my parents told me to do. It had been doing that which was expected of me. What happened on that February night had been unexpected, at least to me.

On that I night, I heard God in my spirit ask me to make my own choice and my own commitment to follow. It was spiritual and intimate and profound. It was powerful in a way that changed the map of my life journey, and that of others, in incalculable ways.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that at the end of all the laws and regulations God brought the people to make a choice and a commitment to enter into an agreement. “Today,” God said. “Make a choice. Make a commitment.” It’s one thing to hang around God in a noncommittal sense and go along with familial or societal expectations of going to church or loosely identifying with religion. It’s another thing altogether to go all in; to make a choice to follow Jesus, and obey.

Today, I’m reminded of a choice and a commitment that I, myself, made nearly 35 years ago which, to this day, intimately shapes my life journey moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. Today, I’m reminded of the words to the simple song that was playing on a cold February night in 1981:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.

No turning back.

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Returning Home

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town….
Ezra 2:1 (NIV)

The past few weeks have been times of transition here at Vander Well manor. Our daughter, who has not really lived under our roof for almost six years, returned home from grad school across the pond. Suzanna, who has been living under our roof for two years, is packing to leave for college tomorrow. The theme of leaving home and returning home has been resonating in my soul these past weeks. In fact, for whatever reason, the theme of returning home has always resonated deeply in my soul.

At some point, almost everyone returns home. It may be for a wedding. It may be for a funeral. The college student returns home for provision before launching on their own road. The soldier returns from war. The adult returns home to confront his or her past, to attend “home-coming,” or out of desperation because they have no other place to go. One of the things I love most about baseball is the fundamental object of the game: to be safe at home. In Jesus’ story of the prodigal child, the younger sibling returns home to seek forgiveness and restoration. Returning home is one of the fundamental themes of life.

In today’s chapter, we find a roll call of  the Hebrews who have been living in exile for years in Babylon and are now returning home. They have no idea what they will find. They have no idea what to expect. Like all those who return home, there had to have been mixed feelings of excitement and fear, joy and trepidation.

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to realize that the journey home is almost always a requisite for those who desire to progress spiritually. Most of us, when we leave home, leave unfinished business behind. There usually comes a point in life in which we cannot move forward toward peace, wisdom, and maturity unless we go back home and deal with whatever it is that awaits us there.

 

Backward Glance

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead….

Philippians 3:13b (NIV)

Anyone who has regularly read my blog, listened to me speak, or who knows me for any length of time comes to realize that I am a lover of history and one who appreciates the past. I have this freaky brain that remembers all the names of the kids in my 1st grade class but can’t recall the name of the guy I met this morning. I have an appreciation for the way our past has shaped us and has led us to where we are today.

I have equally come to appreciate this reality: While the past has shaped my present I am not bound to it. I am free, in the present, to choose this day what I will do and how I will act. The past may have ushered me to this place, but I choose where I go from here. The only power that the past has over me is that which I choose to give it.

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for service in the kingdom of heaven.” If I’m looking backwards then the row I’m hoeing will be crooked. I can’t move productively forward in life if my mind, will and emotions are fixed on what happened to me, or what I did and chose to do, in the past.

A glance backwards can be beneficial as a point of reference. Where have I been? How far have I come? How did I get here? What can I glean from where I have been? I cannot, however, truly progress in my life journey until I willingly choose to turn away from the past, look at where I am, give thought to where I am going, and move.

 

photo:  madelinetosh via flickr

Perfect Timing; Respecting the Plan

Old Clock
(Photo credit: wwarby)

“May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.” – David (1 Samuel 24:12)

“I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” – King Saul (1 Samuel 24:20)

“Timing,” as they say, “is everything.”

When I was a young believer in high school, I had an afterschool job. My boss at this particular job became a mentor to me. He spent an early morning each week studying God’s Message, taught me disciplines critical for this faith journey, and generously provided opportunities for me that became essential to my maturity. He also had a vision of starting a consulting business based on Biblical principles, and he wanted me to be a part of it. One day while having lunch at Wendy’s he laid out his vision, asked me to consider going to business school and getting an M.B.A. with the expressed intent of joining his consulting group. As much as I desired to please him, I knew in my heart that it was not the right step to take. I went a different direction, and during college my mentor and I lost touch. I did not speak to him for many years.

For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, you know that I chose (though I believe my steps were directed) a different path than the one my mentor wanted for me. Rather than business, I chose to become a theatre major. Fast forward past college. Rather than a consulting practice I chose to go into pastoral ministry and then into parachurch ministry in which I raised financial support to cover part of my income. In a series of events I will not take the time to share in this post, I suddenly found myself being directed away from this particular parachurch ministry with no earthly idea what my next steps would be.

As fate (a.k.a. God) would have it, one of my financial supporters was my old boss and mentor with whom I had gotten back in touch after six or so years. When I called him to let him know not to send a support check the next month as I was leaving my position he asked what my plans were. I told him I had no earthly idea what I was going to do next, but I knew I had to leave my position immediately. That afternoon he asked to meet with me and offered me the position with the consulting firm he had envisioned and discussed with me back when I was in high school. I took the position and in 2014 I will celebrate 20 years in my job. In 2005 my dear mentor and friend retired and I have been privileged and blessed to be a partner and owner of the company ever since.

I look back on this experience and it has been a life lesson to me of God’s timing. My boss had a clear vision of the path I should take and the position he wanted to hire me to fulfill. When he laid out his vision to me I knew in my heart that it was not the right path, nor the right timing. As I have written elsewhere in this blog, I now see with 20/20 hindsight how being a theatre major uniquely prepared me to be successful in the position I was hired to fill. Likewise, my experiences in six years of ministry taught me life lessons that were essential to preparing me for the role I would eventually fulfill in business.

In today’s chapter, we continue to watch as the story of David’s ascent to the throne of Israel unfolds. He was anointed as King of Israel while a young man, but he was not ready to take up the mantel of monarch. It would be 20-30 years before David would be in the position God ultimately had for him. Over those many years David would develop the experience and skills necessary for his position as King.

We also continue to see the contrast of the bookend monarchs. David refuses to take a shortcut on God’s timing. He refuses to try and make his ascent to the throne happen by killing Saul even though he appears to have justifiable reason for doing so. David wants the throne in God’s time, not his own. Saul, on the other hand, continues to pursue David despite knowing that God’s anointing has left him and gone to David. He refuses to humble himself and instead gives into fear, seeking to kill David before David wipes out his family and his legacy.

Today, I am grateful for God’s timing. I believe that there is a divine plan for me. I can look back and see it unfold. I can look forward and trust that it will continue to play out. My job is to trust God, be faithful in walking the path laid out for me today, and respect the ultimate plan.